Spatial reference frames are fundamental to represent the position of objects or places. Although research has reported changes in spatial memory abilities during childhood and elderly age, no study has assessed reference frames processing during the entire lifespan using the same task. Here, we aimed at providing some preliminary data on the capacity to process reference frames in 283 healthy participants from 6 to 89 years of age. A spatial memory task requiring egocentric/allocentric verbal judgments about objects in peri-/extrapersonal space was used. The main goals were: (1) tracing a baseline of the normal process of development of these spatial components; (2) clarifying if reference frames are differently vulnerable to age-related effects. Results showed a symmetry between children of 6–7 years and older people of 80–89 years who were slower and less accurate than all other age groups. As regards processing time, age had a strong effect on the allocentric component, especially in extrapersonal space, with a longer time in 6- to 7-year-old children and 80- to 89-year-old adults. The egocentric component looked less affected by aging. Regarding the level of spatial ability (accuracy), the allocentric ability appeared less sensitive to age-related variations, whereas the egocentric ability progressively improved from 8 years and declined from 60 years. The symmetry in processing time and level of spatial ability is discussed in relation to the development of executive functions and to the structural and functional changes due to incomplete maturation (in youngest children) and deterioration (in oldest adults) of underlying cerebral areas.
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